Over at First Things, Mark Bauerlein interviews Mark Movsesian about “Religious Liberty at the Present Time.” The website has a transcript if you want to read the conversation. Here’s the video if you want to watch or listen to it.
Christianity is the world’s largest religion, in terms of adherents, and ranks as the dominant religion, in terms of geography. How it became so and what it looks like today are the subjects of Dyron B. Daughrity’s The Changing World of Christianity. The book is a useful introduction to a vast topic.
To get a sense of Christianity’s size and dominance, consider statistics cited by Daughrity at the outset of his book (pp. 1, 3). In terms of adherents, Christians constitute 33.33 percent of the world’s 6.7 billion people. Muslims constitute 20.87 percent, Hindus 13.41 percent, and nonreligious persons 11.71 percent. No other religion—e.g., Buddhism, Chinese universalist, atheist, etc.—constitutes more than 6 percent. (The statistics are from 2009.)
In terms of ranking, Christianity is the majority or plurality religion in six of the eight geographical regions of the world. The eight regions are, in alphabetical order, Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America/Caribbean, Middle East, North America, Western Europe, and Oceania. Christianity accounts for 92.62 percent of the inhabitants of Latin America, 81.44 percent of North America, 79.76 percent of Eastern Europe, 79.74 percent of Oceania, 78.09 percent of Europe, and 46.53 percent of Africa. Only in Asia and the Middle East do Christians represent a minority of religious adherents, at 9.25 percent and 2.45 percent, respectively.
Obviously, these figures represent nominal adherence to a religion, not necessarily personal commitment as measured by church attendance, theological orthodoxy, or spiritual vitality. Moreover, Daughrity’s definition of “Christian” is expansive, including groups that have longstanding theological disagreements with one another—e.g., Nestorians versus Chalcedonians, Orthodox versus Catholic, Catholic versus Protestant, Western versus African Initiated Churches, etc. Still, the expansion of Christianity from a sectarian Jewish group in a minor Roman province in the first century A.D. to a global religion today is impressive.
How did this happen?
To answer that question, Daughrity profiles the eight geographical regions mentioned above, this time, however, in roughly the chronological order in which Christianity spread to them. So, he begins with the Middle East, moves to Eastern Europe and Western Europe, then Latin America and the Caribbean, North America, Asia, Africa, and Oceania.
I say “roughly” because the Christian presence in both Africa and Asia is quite old. For example, Christianity had a presence in North Africa from the first century A.D. onward, becoming the dominant religion of the region by the time of the seventh-century growth of Islam. Nestorian Christianity followed the Silk Road, arriving in China in A.D. 635. Little is left of those ancient churches, however. The growth of Christianity in Asia and Africa is largely a modern phenomenon.
Daughrity’s geographical arrangement of his material, however rough its chronology, brings an important demographic fact to the fore. The center of global Christianity is moving southward. “In 1900, 82% of the world’s Christians lived in Europe or North America; only 18% of the world’s Christians were outside the Euro-North American block. In the year 2005, only 39% of the world’s Christians lived in Europe or North America. During that 105 year period, Christianity’s heartland moved south to the point that over 60% of the world’s Christians now live in Asia, Africa, or Latin America” (p. 14).
Three themes emerge in Daughrity’s regional narratives that explain Christianity’s growth:
First, missions. Christianity is a missionary religion and always has been. Indeed, the first history of Christianity—the Book of Acts—was a history of its witness to Jesus Christ “In Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). By the time Constantine converted to Christianity in A.D. 312, the Christianity had established roots throughout the Roman Empire (in both its western and eastern halves), and even beyond the reaches of that empire in, among other places, Persia. Since then, the Christian mission has often been entangled with (and distorted by) imperialism and colonialism. However, in every century and in every region, Christianity has been advanced by the work of pioneer missionaries.
Second, colonialism. The first three centuries of Christian growth—from Jesus to Constantine—took place without political aid and sometimes in the teeth of imperial persecution. Once Constantine converted to Christianity in A.D. 312, however, he initiated the long, productive, but troublesome history of Christianity’s entanglement with state power. Imperialism and colonialism—whether Byzantine in the fourth century, Spanish and Portugese in the sixteenth, or British in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—opened new lands to missionaries. Of the eight regions where Christianity is dominant, four were the objects of European colonialism in the last 500 years: Latin America, North America, Oceania, and Africa.
Given the often brutal nature of colonialism—European diseases that destroyed aboriginal populations, exploitation of the land for natural resources, the enslavement and exploitation of native populations—it is surprising that Christianity took hold in these lands. Africa is an especially paradoxical case study. Daughrity quotes the Kenyan Mau Mau revolutionaries as saying, “When the white man came, he had the Bible and we had the land. He told us to close our eyes and pray, and when we opened our eyes he had the land and we had the Bible” (p. 199). Given the truth of this sentiment, it was widely expected that Christianity in sub-Saharan Africa were decline when the colonial powers left. In fact, however, sub-Saharan Africa more than any other geographical region has seen the explosive growth of Christianity. Despite colonial depredations, Africans took the missionary’s Bible and made it their own.
Third, fertility. Most people identify with and practice the religion of their parents. (The rapid conversion of sub-Saharan Africa to Christianity is the exception that proves the rule.) The global dominance of Christianity, then, depends to a degree on the fertility of its adherents. (Again, we are taking about nominal adherence, not necessarily personal commitment.) According to statistics cited by Daughrity (p. 3), Africa has the highest fertility rate (4.72 births per woman), followed by the Middle East (2.88), Latin America/Caribbean (2.42), Asia (2.35), and Oceania (2.26). For a given population merely to replace itself, its birth rate must average 2.1. North America (2.05), Western Europe (1.56), and Eastern Europe (1.38) are all well below replacement rate. Looking at these statistics and noting that the highest birth rates are in Africa and the Middle East, where Islam has, respectively, a sizable minority and majority presence, many demographers predict that Islam’s share of the global population will match or exceed Christianity’s within the twenty-first century. Daughrity acknowledges this demographic trend line but notes that it assumes current demographic trends will continue unchanged into the future. Given the spectacular growth of Christianity in sub-Saharan Africa especially, this may be a problematic assumption.
Daughrity closes his study with a question, “What does Christianity mean?” He notes that some will see Christianity as “having played a critical role in many great human achievements,” while others will associate it with “the atrocious nature of European expansion.” As a historian of religion, Daughrity rejects “the twin temptations of unequivocal praise and wholesale rejection,” opting instead to present the story of Christianity’s growth in all its “messiness” (p. 253). As a student and proponent of the Church’s mission to the world, messy is a good word to use. The gospel is luminous, but Christians throughout the ages have mucked it up in any number of ways.
What is clear today, however, is that Christianity is growing in the global South and declining in the global North. Daughrity notes the historical irony of this when he writes, “global Southerners often see the West as a grand mission field, a spiritual wasteland in need of the gospel. What goes around has come around indeed!” (p. 254). But this time, it will come in an African or Asian or Latin American form.
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I had the privilege of interviewing Warren Bullock for the latest episode of the Influence Podcast. Dr. Bullock is a friend and author of When Words Hurt: Helping Godly Leaders Respond Wisely to Criticism, which I reviewed here. If you’d like to listen to the podcast, head on over to InfluenceMagazine.com. You can subscribe to the podcast, which drops weekly, over at iTunes.
Derek Cooper begins his Introduction to World Christian History with a thought-provoking quote:
In just over 100 years, the map of world Christianity has changed almost out of recognition. In 1900, it is estimated that 70 percent of all Christians were to be found in Europe … whereas … by 2025 Africa and Latin America will be vying with one another to claim the most Christians, having about a quarter each of the world’s Christian population (p. 11, quoting Sebastian Kim and Kirsteen Kim, Christianity as a World Religion).
Given this monumental demographic shift, Christianity must be understood broadly as a global movement, rather than narrowly as a Western one.
Unfortunately, too many evangelical histories of Christianity continue to evince a Eurocentric bias in their presentation. (The same can be said of other Christian traditions too, of course.) They trace the Church’s story from first-century Judea (where the Church was born) to fourth-century Rome (where orthodoxy formed a problematic relationship with the State) to medieval Europe (where Catholic Christendom flourished) to early modern Northern Europe (where the Reformation took root) to Enlightenment-era Britain and America (where evangelicalism began) to today—that is to say, they trace the history from “them” to “us.” That story is true, as far as it goes, but it leaves a lot of vital information out, about both past and present realities of the Church.
The emerging field of “world Christian history” or “global Christian history” seeks to correct this Eurocentric bias and provide a more accurate history of the development of Christianity. “Despite its close connection to the West today, Christianity has always been a global and ethnically diverse religion,” Derek Cooper writes. “The time has come for the church to recognize that its history extends far beyond the Western hemisphere. The church was planted in Asia, nurtured in African and harvested worldwide” (p. 13).
A thorough history of world Christianity would be a multi-volume affair. See, for example, Dale T. Irvin and Scott W. Sunquist’s projected World Christian Movement, whose first two volumes total 1,000 pages, with a third volume still awaiting publication. Even readers with an interest in the topic do not always have the time or patience to read long books like those. They should begin, instead, with Cooper’s Introduction to World Christian History, which summarizes the main points of world Christian history in less than 250 pages.
Cooper arranges his narrative chronologically and geographically. Chronologically, he divides his material into “three fluid periods: (1) the first to seventh centuries, (2) the eighth through fourteenth centuries, and (3) the fifteenth to the twenty-first centuries” (p. 16). Geographically, he divides his material using the United Nations Geoscheme for Nations. Part 1 and 2 examine the development of Christianity in Asia, Africa, and Europe during the church’s first fifteen centuries. Part 3 begins in Europe, which is where Christianity had become spiritually and politically dominant, but then traces the Church’s development into new fields in Latin America, North America, Oceania, Southern Africa, and Asia. The Church’s development in this period coincided with European colonialism, which—paradoxically—constituted both an obstacle to the acceptance of Christianity by the indigenous peoples (because it was associated with foreign domination) as well as the catalyst for its growth (because indigenous peoples took the missionaries’ gospel and made it their own).
Reflecting on this history, Cooper concludes his book with words that are worth quoting:
Christianity does not belong to Europe or America, or to Asia or Africa or Oceania any more than the wind can be captured, claimed and bottled. The wind [of the Holy Spirit] continues to blow today, just as it did in the past. We can hear the sound of it and witness how it transforms peoples and cultures. But we do not know how long the wind will remain with us and where it will go next (p. 244).
Wherever the Wind may blow, Christians should pray and work so that the Wind carries them along with it.
P.S. This review is cross-posted at InfluenceMagazine.com.
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American Christians don’t know how to suffer well. On the one hand, we think the life of faith should be victorious and joyful, so suffering seems like a defeat and a downer. On the other hand, because suffering seems like a defeat and a downer, it must be caused by insufficient faith or obedience on our part.
Neither hand is biblical, of course. Instead, both reflect the chirpy optimism and can-do individualism of modern culture. “If it’s going to be,” we often hear, “it’s up to me.” The corollary of this sentiment is obvious but ignored: “If it doesn’t happen, it’s my fault.”
What American Christians need is a biblical theology of suffering—one that recognizes life’s hardness without blaming the victims. Between Pain and Grace by Gerald Peterman and Andrew Schmutzer does just that. It situates Christian experience smack dab in the middle of the now-but-not-yet of the gospel:
In our current metanarrative—the overarching narrative of human life for those of Christian faith—we find two opposing qualities existing side by side; indeed, they are sometimes mixed together. First, there is death and those things that go along with it, such as suffering, sin, frustration, betrayal, violence, corruption, and groaning. Second, there are blessings of the gospel: new life, redemption, the indwelling Spirit, adoption, hope, life in God’s community, and ongoing transformation.
Truly, the Christian life means to exist between two worlds: the old world of sin, alienation, and death and the new world of righteousness, holiness, and life.
Until Christ returns, this both-and quality cannot be resolved. God alone can “wipe every tear from their eyes” with finality (Revelation 21:4). That doesn’t mean there are no actions the Christian community can take to ameliorate existing suffering or to prevent future suffering. We can and must do both. Indeed, “God always uses human agents to carry his plan forward” (emphasis in original).
Still, suffering is an intrinsic part of life in the present age, so it is a duty of Christians to understand it better so they can minister to its victims with greater compassion and healing. The authors contribute to a better understanding of suffering by outlining the “basics of affliction in Scripture” in chapter 1. Chapter 2 turns to “the relational ecosystem of sin and suffering,” that is, the relationship of God to humanity, of humans to one another, to animals, and to the inanimate created order.
Chapters 3 and 4 are theological. They describe the suffering of God and of Jesus. Against classical philosophical theism, which teaches that God does not suffer, and against panentheism, which teaches that God is not sovereign over suffering, the authors describe God as a “caring King,” the One characterized by “willing vulnerability” (emphasis in original).
Chapter 5 argues that the Church needs to recover the practice of lamentation, that is, “the language of lament.” The lament—whether individual or corporate—is the most common form of prayer in the Psalms. Contemporary Christians are often uncomfortable with laments’ frank complaining to God—e.g., “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Psalm 22:1). Without lament, however, sufferers can’t make sense of what’s happening to or in themselves. “The very structure of lament brings shape to the formlessness of suffering.” For me personally, this was the best chapter in the book.
The remaining chapters discuss a variety of topics: “redemptive anger” (chapter 6); “suffering, prayer, and worldview” (chapter 7); “leadership and tears” (chapter 8); “family toxins” (chapter 9); sexual abuse (chapter 10); mental illness (chapter 11); and the role of the Christian community in ameliorating and preventing suffering (chapter 12). Each of these chapters mines Scripture for wisdom on the topics, as well as draws on the best of the social sciences. The discussion of “family toxins” in chapter 9, for example, puts the story of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph) into fruitful dialogue with family systems therapy. It is a tour de force. Chapter 13 brings the book to a conclusion by reflecting on the “metanarrative” of Scripture, which progressives in the arc of “Creation è Devastation è Restoration.” In Christ, God’s devastated creation is being restored—at the individual, social, and cosmic levels.
Between Pain and Grace is not always easy reading, and like most books on hard topics, readers will find all sorts of nits to pick. Nonetheless, Gerald Peterman and Andrew Schmutzer have written a valuable treatment of a difficult subject. I highly recommend it.
P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.
Not long ago, I was standing in line behind a man at the checkout stand of a gas station. He paid his bill and handed the cashier something, which she received with a look of befuddlement on her face. Then he turned around, handed me something, and walked out the door. He never said a word the whole time.
I looked down and realized I was holding a self-printed evangelistic tract. My first thought was, His motivation is right. That guy took the Great Commission seriously, and good for him for doing so! My second thought was, His method is wrong. All wrong, in fact. Personal evangelism is supposed to be personal, after all. This guy had passed along information to the cashier and me, but personal evangelism is not about information. It’s about relationship, both with God and with others.
Unfortunately, too many Christians view personal evangelism through an informational lens. “What should I say?” they ask. “How should I respond to this or that objection to Christianity?” “How can I turn everyday conversations into eternal conversations?” These are excellent questions, by the way. Absent relationship, however, even the best answers aren’t likely to change the minds. Psychologically, we are more likely to change our minds or believe new things when we trust the person telling us about them. And trust is a relational issue.
Studies bear out the importance of relationship in evangelism. Research commissioned by well-known evangelist Luis Palau reveals that 75 percent of people who convert to Christianity do so through relationship with a Christian family member, friend, or colleague. The Institute of American Church Growth puts the number even higher, at 90 percent. If 75–90 percent of conversions happen because of personal relationship, the conclusion is inescapable: Billy Graham is not the best evangelist to reach your neighbor. You are.
In The 9 Arts of Spiritual Conversation, Mary Schaller and John Crilly show readers how to walk “alongside people who believe differently,” so that evangelism, discipleship, and spiritual growth take place organically in an authentic relationship. Schaller and Crilly are the president and former national director, respectively, of Q Place, a parachurch ministry that trains people how to start and facilitate evangelistic small groups. They write about such small groups in chapter 12, “Starting a Q Place.” As a former small groups pastor, I like Q Place’s approach to things and encourage you to check out that ministry.
However, the majority of the book isn’t about Q Place’s ministry focus. It’s about the skills necessary to form authentic relationships in which evangelism can occur organically. Schaller and Crilly divide the “9 arts of spiritual conversation” into three broad categories. Let me outline their presentation for you:
- “Noticing those around me and paying close attention to what God might be doing in their lives.”
- “Praying for those I meet in my day-to-day life and asking God to show me what he wants to do to bless them.”
- “Listening with genuine care, interest, and empathy as I interact with others without editorializing or offering my own unsolicited opinions.”
- “Asking questions that arise from genuine curiosity, drawing others out with great questions and seeking to understand more than to be understood.”
- “Loving others authentically because I personally know God’s love and see them with his eyes.”
- “Welcoming people by valuing their presence so they feel that they belong.”
Keeping It Going
- “Facilitating good discussions in a group setting so that every person feels honored and respected, even when they believe different than I do.”
- “Serving together, gathering people to serve and know God and each other better through service.”
- “Sharing my own story, learning others’ stories, and expressing God’s story of forgiveness through Jesus in a way that is respectful and meaningful.”
With this outline in mind, you might think to yourself, Thanks, George! Now I don’t have to read the book. That would be a mistake, in my opinion, for each chapter goes into helpful detail.
For example, as I read chapter 3, “The Art of Noticing,” I was struck by how much and how often I don’t notice others. Schaller and Crilly identified four barriers to noticing—pace of life, self-focus, Christian bubble, and attitude—and I realized that I am on the wrong side of each of those barriers. I live too fast, focus on self too much, don’t get out of my Christian bubble often enough, and tend to be “judgmental” rather than “open.” Realizing this, I read the chapter with much more personal interest. My guess is that you too will find valuable insights in the authors’ treatment of at least one—if not more—of the “9 arts.”
So, who should read The 9 Arts of Spiritual Conversation? Obviously, any Christian interested in doing personal evangelism. Small groups pastors and small group facilitators might want to use this book in for self-development and training purposes. It’s a good book, and I’m happy to recommend it.
P.S. This review first appeared at InfluenceMagazine.com.
P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.
Leaders often say, “It’s lonely at the top.” That’s true, of course—at least to an extent—but it’s also tragic. Leadership doesn’t have to be lonely.
In fact, as Dr. Henry Cloud argues in The Power of the Other, success depends on relationship. “The undeniable reality,” he writes, “is that how well you do in life and in business depends not only on what you do and how you do it, your skills and competencies, but also on who is doing it with you or to you” (emphasis in original).
But not just any relationship! What leaders need is “specific qualitiative relational connectedness” (emphasis in original). This is what Cloud calls “True Connection” or “Corner Four relationship.”
In Corner One relationships, leaders feel “disconnected.” He writes: “True connection always means being emotionally and functionally invested in other people, in a give-and-receive dynamic. Disconnection lacks something, in one direction or the other—either in the giving or the receiving. Truly connected people do both. They are emotionally present and able to give and to receive.”
In Corner Two relationships, leaders have “a bad connection.” They experience a “connection, preoccupation, or pull toward a person who has the effect of making you feel bad or ‘not good enough’ in some way” (emphasis in original). Think of a son trying to gain the respect of a hypercritical dad or an employee trying to please a boss who rarely praises employees.
In Corner Three relationships, leaders form a “seductively false ‘good connection.’” In this corner, leaders gravitate toward relationships that make them feel good. They cultivate people who flatter and praise them but overlook people in the organization who bear bad news. People in high-stress jobs who live in Corner Three often find themselves engaging in extramarital affairs or using addictive substances to maintain an artificial “high.”
None of these corners is a good place to be. Leaders need to go to Corner Four. Here, leaders form a “real connection” with others, “one in which you can be your whole self, the real, authentic you, a relationship to which you can bring your heart, mind, soul, and passion. Both parties to the relationship are wholly present, known, understood, and mutually invested. What each truly thinks, feels, believes, fears, and needs can be shared safely.”
In contemporary parlance, authenticity is often interpreted in non-relational terms. “I gotta be me!” people exclaim. The problem is that this understanding of authenticity is individualistic, not relational. “I gotta be me” is often used to slough off or criticize the counsel others are trying to give us. That’s not what Corner Four looks like.
Instead, Cloud identifies eight characteristics of Corner Four relationships. True connection:
- gives freedom,
- requires responsibility,
- defangs failure,
- challenges and pushes,
- builds structure,
- unites instead of divides,
- and is trustworthy.
When we truly connect with others, they help us draw out the full potential of who we really are and what we can truly be. Relationship makes authenticity possible.
Cloud opens the book with a story that I’ll close with. It’s about “Hell Week,” the final week of training for Navy SEALs. That week is “a grueling exercise requiring the utmost physical and mental endurance, pushing these already-at-the-top specimens to their absolute limits.” Cloud’s brother-in-law Mark was a Navy SEAL who was later killed in Iraq. In the days after Mark’s death, Bryce, one of Mark’s fellow SEALs told, how he almost failed “Hell Week.”
He was swimming in the cold Pacific Ocean after a week of grueling training. A way from the shore, he “hit the wall.” Cloud comments, “He tried to will himself to keep going, but his body would not obey.” It was at that moment that Bryce looked up and saw Mark, who had already reached land. Mark caught his eye, gave him a fist pump, and yelled an encouraging, “You can do it!” And that was all Bryce needed. “His body jumped into another gear,” Cloud writes, “into another dimension of performance that he had not had access to before…That is the ‘power of the other.’”
To be one’s true self, to reach one’s full potential—whether as a leader, a spouse, a parent, or whatever—you and I need others. Authenticity requires relationship. That’s what The Power of the Other is all about.
I recommend the book highly.
P.S. This review first appeared at InfluenceMagazine.com.
P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon review page.